Saracens set for Clermont challenge in Champions Cup final
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Club chasing back-to-back European titles
Saracens go head-to-head with Clermont Auvergne for the Champions Cup title at Murrayfield in Edinburgh this weekend.
And the Hendon-based club will seek to become only the fourth team to win back-to-back European crowns, while French side Clermont look to clinch their maiden Champions Cup title.
However, the previous meeting between the two sides went the way of Clermont – a 13-9 win for the French club in the semi-finals in 2015.
This time around, the Premiership club will go into the final as firm favourites. Having not lost in Europe since the loss to Clermont, Saracens have looked the form side in this year’s competition.
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Sarries topped pool three before dispatching Glasgow Warriors and Munster in the knock-out stages to set up a third final appearance in four seasons.
Indeed, Clermont have had similar fortunes during this campaign, topping pool five despite a round three 39-32 loss to Ulster, and the final at Murrayfield will mark the club’s 100th game in Europe.
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There will be some familiar faces in the Clermont ranks in the shape of former Saracens winger David Strettle and ex-Bath full-back Nick Abendanon.
Both have been lethal for Clermont this season, with Abendanon leading their charge with a club best of five tries in the Champions Cup this season.
Equally so, Saracens wing Chris Ashton has been in imperious form for the north Londoners and his five tries in the competition have led Sarries’ attack and left him level with Frenchman Vincent Clerc on 36 tries in Europe. One more try for the Saracens flyer will elevate him to record-breaking heights.
Clermont’s back line could prove difficult to crack, with centre Remi Lamerat dominating opposition defences with a huge 71 carries and 11 offloads, but Saracens’ wolfpack defence just keeps on getting better.
Against Munster it was arguably at its best, but against Clermont, Sarries will need to call on top tacklers Maro Itoje, with 75 for the competition, and recent player of the season Mike Rhodes, with a club high of 82 during the campaign.
With Saracens resting key players during the final league game of the season in the 35-15 loss to Wasps, the Londoners should be raring to go.
A fresh Billy Vunipola will pose one of the greatest threats to the Clermont defence in the loose and having already racked up a total of 20 defenders beaten during the competition, his ball-carrying in attack will undoubtedly give Saracens front-foot advantage.
An equally fresh Owen Farrell will add to the Saracens attacking dimension and the leading points-scorer (113) will need his kicking boots on as it’s the fine margins in rugby that can make all the difference when it comes to winning and losing.
Scoring opportunities will come few and far between, but Farrell’s reliability in front of goal will give him the edge over his opposite number.
Whichever way the cup goes on Saturday, history will be made. But Saracens haven’t lost against French opposition since that semi-final in 2015 and have just got better and better as the competition has progressed.
And the way the tournament has gone, it’s difficult to look beyond back-to-back titles for Saracens and a win in Edinburgh will give their double-winning season prospects a huge boost.